Defense Rules the Day in UTEP Football Scrimmage

Wesley Miller
Aug. 9, 2014

The defense made a statement and the offense earned more practice time in UTEP's first scrimmage of the season on Saturday morning in Alpine.

Alvin Jones and Trey Brown both returned interceptions for touchdowns as the stop troops accounted for two of the four touchdowns scored on the day.

"Great day for the defense," UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. "They got after the offense from snap one until the end. I felt they played with more energy and emotion. Usually the side of the ball that plays with more energy and emotion wins the battle. The defense was outstanding."

Jones opened the scoring by picking off a Jameill Showers pass and running 25 yards into the end zone. Brown capped the scrimmage by getting his hands on a tipped ball and rambling for a 37-yard TD.

UTEP quarterbacks were sacked a total of six times with Jones, Ishmael Harrison, Devin Cockrell, Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Usher and Cooper Brock doing the honors.

"The defense was making plays, forcing fumbles and breaking up passes," Kugler said. "The only thing I'd probably critique was they had a couple of pass interference penalties. It was the first time we've had referees out there and we've got to clean that up."

Kugler rewarded the defense with the rest of the day off, while the offense was scheduled to go back to work mid-afternoon.



UTEP quarterbacks - Showers, Garrett Simpson and Mack Leftwich - combined to complete 10-of-25 passes for 55 yards. The Miners also rushed for 10 yards on 26 carries.

"There was a lack of focus and concentration [on offense] -- too many false starts and too many dropped balls," Kugler said. "The defense dictated that."

While the Miners had more questions than answers on defense after yielding 39.3 points per game in 2013, it hasn't taken long for them to start sorting things out.

One area that appears to be stronger than advertised is the linebacker corps, where Brown, Jones, Anthony Puente and Jimmy Musgrave have all had their moments in camp.

"The linebacker competition is great and it's making all four of those guys better," Kugler said. "I have no problem going into the game starting with Brown, Puente, Musgrave or Jones. All of them can make plays. I feel good about that position. It's night and day from last year."

"Last year we were missing tackles left and right," said Jones, a redshirt freshman from El Paso. "This year we have people making open field, one-on-one tackles. It's a big difference and hopefully we can continue to get better."

Practice truly made perfect for Jones on his opening score.

"Earlier this week I had trouble playing that route coming from across the field," he said. "Coach has been hammering `Get across the field.' I got there and it was great.

"I always want to go get the ball. I'll pass up a hit for the ball any time."

Brown said the defense is gaining confidence by the day as enthusiasm spreads from player to player.

"I'm overly excited about the energy. Energy just brings big plays, big moments, and the defense is always fired up," he said.

Kugler was also excited about the pressure generated by a front four that produced only 13 sacks all of last season.

"I thought there was some great pass rush from Nick Usher, Roy Robertson and Luke Elsner the freshman," he said. "That kid has been outstanding all camp."

Elsner said he's just trying to make a name for himself.

"I'm coming from a small town of Seymour [Wisconsin]," he noted. "It was my goal to start and not to redshirt. I'm finally starting to get there. I've got to work my butt off to get some more reps, but I plan to get in there eventually."

On of the greybeards of this year's defense, senior safety Wesley Miller, is seeing a lot of hard work finally start to pay off.

"We're not thinking out there," he said. "We're playing fast. We know what we're doing and we're communicating. We're focusing more on what the offense is giving us as opposed to last year, when we were trying to memorize our plays and figure out what we were doing."

So the defense gets to enjoy the rest of its Saturday. The offense gets to go back to work, ironing out the kinks with plenty of time remaining until the Aug. 30 opener at New Mexico.

"They'll be out here working and correcting the errors that they had," said Kugler on his 48th birthday. "They had several of them. That's how this program is going to be run. You do the right things, and you're going to be rewarded. You don't do the right things, and you're going to be accountable for it. So they're going to practice, and the defense is going to enjoy a nice night off."

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